I had an incident while driving home from work a few months ago that I need to discuss here. As I began to make a left hand turn onto my one way street, a man on a bike coming the wrong way down my street swerved to avoid my car. He yelled to me “Slow down!” followed by a comment relating my driving skills to the presence of a second X chromosome. Mixed with anger at his comment and that pit of your stomach nervousness of an almost-collision, I did the first thing that came to mind: I switched into angry New Yorker mode. “Hey,” I yelled back, “You’re biking in the wrong direction. Follow traffic!” He stared blankly at me, and proceeded to ride away, again against traffic. Initially I was angry, but was soon hit with another thought. What if I’m wrong? What exactly are the bike laws in New York City anyway?
Thanks to our good friends at the DMV:
“Bicyclists, in-line skaters, and motor vehicle drivers must all use and obey the same traffic laws… The law requires that bicyclists ride or in-line skaters glide with the traffic. The main cause of accidents is bicyclists or skaters that ride against traffic. The bicyclists and skaters that move with traffic are easier for motorists to see and their actions are easier to predict. Bicyclists and skaters that move with traffic also prevent interference with the flow of traffic and pedestrians.”
In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of painted bike lanes on NYC streets. This website also expands on some regulations not mentioned on the DMV website. “Stay off sidewalks: Bikes are not permitted on sidewalks unless bike wheels are less than 26 inches in diameter and the rider is 12 years or younger, or signs allow.”
Now, by no means am I trying to discourage New Yorkers from traveling on bicycles. With the increasing number of bicyclists, we all (bikers, motorists, and pedestrians alike) need to be aware of rules and regulations. The NYC Bicycle Safety Coalition has recently started an ad campaign encouraging everyone to simply look to avoid collisions. Which is exactly why bicyclists should follow the flow of traffic: motorists won’t look for you if you’re not supposed to be there. According to their statistics, last year over 3,000 cyclists in NYC were struck by motorists. Three years ago, it was my friend who was struck. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt aside from cuts and bruises, but others aren’t so lucky.
So here’s the tradeoff. Motorists, watch out for bicyclists. Next time you’re traveling, don’t speed up just to pass a bicyclist and make that right hand turn. Stay behind, let the cyclist pass through the intersection, then make your turn. The six seconds you could save isn’t worth it. Don’t honk at them either- they deserve the road just as much as you. Bicyclists, ride with traffic and obey all rules of the road. Stop at red lights, and signal if you’re going to switch lanes- that hand signal may prevent the motorist from speeding up to try and pass you at the exact wrong moment. If you are new to biking and are unsure of yourself, head to a park where roads are often closed to cars during certain hours of the day, and practice. Pedestrians, when waiting at an intersection for a green light, don’t step into the street to wait in the bike lane- that’s why we have sidewalks. Here’s to a safer New York.